A recent study by Barna, an evangelical Christian polling firm, asked 15,000 people aged 18 to 35 across 25 countries about their mental health and how it relates to churchgoing habits. The findings suggest that there are connections between practicing faith and overall well-being. I invited experts to provide input on what it is about going to church that has a positive impact on people.
Donald Pinnock, a minister, believes much of the benefit to wellbeing comes from being “gathered with others who are there for the same intent – to render homage to the Creator through psalms and prayers, and to gain encouragement, hope, and even correction, through the study of His words.”
He compares the positive results to regular exercise. “The endorphins released within the body after physical exertion has an analgesic effect leading to a sense of well-being. Spiritual exercise (undertaken by those who worship often, coupled with striving to live a biblically-obedient way of life) also results in a feeling of elation. Exercising one’s body often has lasting results, but it is much more if one exercises the soul and spirit,” said Pinnock.
Melanie Musson, a millenial with a bachelor’s degree in biblical studies, believes “being part of something gives people a sense of belonging. Even when attending a large church, people can get involved in smaller groups that can give a sense of community.” Robert Pellien, a minister and host of That's in the Bible agrees that a sense of belonging is a “powerful healer and comforter. Being part of something that is powerful and much grander than any one of us individually is experienced when we gather before our Almighty Creator to praise, worship and it will bring a taste of His compassion and mercy into the life of the true seeker.”
Lia Huynh, therapist, pastor's wife and a seminary professor, notes that while having a group of people who have the same beliefs, who learn that loving others and being kind is a goal to have, is going to create a culture of support, there is also a sense of security by belonging to a church. “Having faith in a God who is benevolent and in control of all things gives one a sense of security when faced with fear. Being able to pray, quiet one's mind and focus on God affects the brain. There are lots of studies about focused attention like meditation and prayer and the ways it causes parts of our brains that calm us to light up,” added Hyunh.
Participating in church activities also takes the focus off ourselves. Richard Juatco, a minister, thinks it’s clear that “going to church or being an active church member (i.e. regularly attending worship services, actively participating in church projects) has a positive impact on one’s life because it helps put everything in proper perspective.” Attending church causes people to turn their attention towards a higher being and the needs around them. Dr. Andrew Knight notes that “millennials especially are more involved in outreach than previous generations. Being involved in the work of the church, millennials find fulfillment when it cannot be found anywhere else.”
Acknowledgment of God also provides a clear perspective of one’s limitations. Juatco says “a religious person embraces the fact that he or she cannot ever know everything, that we need help to safely navigate through this challenging life, and so chooses to follow the guidance of the One who created us all in the first place."
Although the Barna study focused on millenials, Pinnock sees a positive relationship with an older population as well. “As one grows older, the sense of mortality grows more evident, and in turn this could lead many people to consider what lies beyond the grave. This motivates some to enhance their relationship with the Creator or God. It is no wonder then that a larger percentage of baby boomers are found dedicating more time to worship.
Knight agrees these positive outcomes are also seen with senior church attenders. He believes “the worst time of life not to be in church and have a church family to pray for one with failing health would be the seniors." But young or old, Knight sums up his thoughts by stating “the best place for any age group is in a church, and being involved with a church family.”